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A Stroke of CourageA Stroke of Courage
by Phil Ware

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    He was an older man. I saw him as soon as I sat down. I had scanned the diner for ashtrays. I wanted to avoid the smoking section and was looking for clues to tell me where to sit. I couldn’t figure out where it was, so I just sat down where I could study this intriguing man.

    I was in a small west Texas town alone, looking for some good small town diner food. This was the place. The pickups outside confirmed the repeated recommendations of locals. This older fella’ was perched at a centrally located table. All the waitresses knew him. They also cared about him and demonstrated it in the way they handled his comments and requests. His posture was a little awkward. His coffee cup and glass of water were arranged in a very specific location, to which he meticulously returned them. His feet were carefully wrapped around the table pedestal, and his boots sat remarkably still for all the upper body movement he made during conversation.

    Over the course of the next hour, my subject of interest would speak to well over a dozen folks of different ages and races. Several came and sat with him for a bit, sharing coffee, news, and a joke or two. Others carried on a conversation with him from several tables away. It was a nice place to be for a bit. The rush of urban shallowness was a million miles away. I was tired and needed a blessing. I found it in this ol’ guy.

    Even though my older gent handled everything with a careful and well-rehearsed grace, I suspected long before my suspicions could be confirmed. His routines were not fluid. His movements were not random enough to be natural. His slurred speech was hard to understand, but the folks in the diner, waitresses and diners alike, all understood him. When they didn’t, they worked hard to put together what he said so he didn’t have to repeat it. There was no condescension. He was affable — a fun study for a people-watcher like me. His smile was genuine. It came to him easily. When he got up to greet some folks on the other side of the diner and wish someone a happy birthday, my suspicion was verified. He was a stroke victim. He slightly dragged his right foot as he walked and held his right arm in an odd way. All of this I had seen before in people to whom I ministered, or in their loved ones to whom they provided care.

What I witnessed in that diner was an extraordinary yet everyday kind of courage...
    I guess to some folks reading this, my close observation and careful analysis may seem intrusive. Maybe they are. However, I believe Jesus studied folks and saw glimpses of their heart as often as a concerned human observer as he did by simply looking into their hearts and knowing them because he was divine. What we see of the Lord in the Gospels shows a man with a heart for people who picked up on the clues that he observed in them. He did this so that he could share his grace with them in a way that confirmed their dignity and value. (Sometime make a commitment to spend a summer in the Gospels* looking only at how Jesus treated people!) Since I don’t have the divine ability to see people’s hearts, I believe God calls me to watch people carefully — not to pass judgment, but to open my eyes to the doorways into their hearts and to value them for who they are through their travels down life’s road.

    I had a great meal. It was good food, but even more importantly, I was given a deep appreciation for someone I didn’t know. Here was someone who faced an incredible set-back at an old age. He was single, so he faced it alone or had endured other unspeakable hardships because of his condition. The level of residual impact of his stroke, demonstrated in his well-rehearsed moves and his slurred speech, indicated that he had suffered a severe stroke. Hours of therapy had helped him re-wire a host of activities we negotiate without a thought, but nothing for him would ever be easy again.

    How some can overcome the worst of problems with a graciousness to their manner and a joy for life are a mystery to me. This seems doubly perplexing when so many of us, who have so very much for which to be thankful, give up at the most silly or menial challenges. What I witnessed in that diner was an extraordinary yet everyday kind of courage that won’t make any headlines or appear on any special TV news show. It’s the grit of life kind of courage that sooner or later most of us will need, but which so few of us actually attain.

    If this man could face his day with joy, greet people without self-consciousness, and find a way to be blessed and to share a blessing, then surely I can too! This man’s stroke of courage touched me in a profound place, and reminded me to share the vast blessings God has lavished on me with more unrestrained joy.

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. (Philippians 4:4-5)

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      Title: "A Stroke of Courage"
      Author: Phil Ware
      Publication Date: July 14, 2003

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Phil Ware is minister of the Word at Southern Hills Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas. For the past 10+ years, he has also been co-editor of HEARTLIGHT Magazine. For more details, click here.


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